And it's by good old Tod Handley in his Guildford Phil days! The 1949 Concertante, written again for Harriet Cohen after she had lost the use of her right hand in a domestic accident, is smaller fry — but it can boast an absolute gem of a slow movement. This is a mystic-enigmatic work with an idyllic Olympian character given its wayward head by Joyce Hatto and Vernon Handley. Hatto played the piano part to Mátyás Seiber and as a result of his intervention Chappells managed to locate a full score. There is a Medtnerian idyllic reflective quality to the work. Such a pity that she did not record all four Bax piano sonatas and is it too late for her to tackle Winter Legends, I wonder. So I was delighted to find that Naxos have recently released a new recording of this work with Ashley Wass and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra conducted by James Judd. With a pair of works by one of England's best second-rank twentieth century composers plus performances by one of England's best provincial orchestras and one of her best up-and-coming piano virtuosos, it would have been a natural for one of England's best classical labels.
What a champion of English music he's been. Interestingly he reminds the listener that Harriet Cohen, the works dedicatee, had a possessive attitude towards the piece. She seemed at the heart of British literary and political life, as well as being adventurous with music and musicians. In consequence one of Bax's most eloquent works was not heard again during his lifetime and has been played only a couple of times since his death 30 years ago—and not at all since the current revival of interest in his music. Clear influences include especially Franck and Rachmaninoff, but also Elgar.
Would a Handley cycle of the seven Bax symphonies have made a real and positive difference to the Bax revival? This was the classical record shop in Glasgow in the mid nineteen seventies. It is an uncomfortable and ungainly piece, but one can readily see why it was once one of Bax's most popular: its expression is for him uncommonly direct and unambiguous, and the solo part is excitingly spectacular. The orchestra is given plenty of interest also. The much more recent recording by Margaret Fingerhut is in better sound and has the advantage of an urtext version. Renowned for its superb sound quality, Chandos has won many prestigious awards for its natural sound. The late 1949 Concertante is one of the left-hand works not written for Paul Wittgenstein.
The work always makes me suspect some symbolist schematic like the cathedral structure read into Havergal Brian's Gothic. The Fourth Symphony and the Symphonic Vaiations were avaialble on high quality cassette transfers by Mike Skeet's company in the 1980s. The whole has a mystical and hieratic air. From the 1960s onwards, mainly through a growing number of commercial recordings, his music was gradually rediscovered. Along the way, there are self-allusions, whiffs of other composers thought I noticed a Ring quotation near the end , and the tune of a Bax song whose text suggests that this is indeed love music.
I only wish the same could be said of the actual sound of her instrument, which comes over as tinny, muffled and anything but well tempered. . Best to sit back and let the piece weave its uniquely potent spell, for it contains page after page as raptly beautiful and ecstatically sensuous as even Bax ever conceived. Joyce Hatto Concert Artist — nla; given the scandal of Hattogate, will it ever see the light of day again? The writing rises to dense complexity of harmony from time to time. Is this, his longest orchestral piece, a concerto or not? The company has pioneered the idea of the 'series' and proudly includes series of such composers as Prokofiev, Tchaikovsky, Parry, Walton, Grainger, Berkeley and Bridge. The romantic slow movement opens with a beautiful and haunting piano tune which gives way to a brooding atmospheric middle section, coloured by typical Baxian orchestral textures, like swirling mists in a nocturnal vision of some Irish coastal vista.
What would it have been like and how different would it have been from the impending Handley cycle from Chandos? From 1949, just four years short of Bax's death comes the Concertante for Piano Left Hand and Orchestra. The work dates from earlyish in Bax's life - in fact from the time of the Great War, his grand and guilty passion for Harriet Cohen and his then separation from his wife. This is the genuine Hatto article, by the way. Bax wrote his Symphonic Variations during the 1914—18 war for Harriet Cohen with whom he was by then living, having left his wife for her and gave her the exclusive right to perform the work for this reason, perhaps, it was never published. With the degree of elaboration of the piano part it is no wodner that Sorabji wrote of the piece that it was ' without any doubt the finest work for piano and orchestra ever written by an Englishman. Or perhaps music about the role and scale of love and passion, in the context of life and English society. Indeed, although the powerful emotions the piece expresses are no doubt rooted in Bax's feelings about the war about the Easter uprising in Ireland and about Harriet Cohen herself, it is surely no less important that he was writing for the keyboard again.
Still, as with the Variations, the performance is wholly committed, and overall, especially on the strength of the Variations, this remains a fine addition to the Bax discography, and a very good deal at the price. Although it plays for very nearly 50 minutes it consists, apart from an intermezzo, of only six 'variations' extended rhapsodic mood pieces, rather , ranging from four to 11 minutes in length. This 'Hatto' affair must be most confusing to those who are unaware that a part of a deception Joyce Hatto was a name given to other pianists performances. It was through a recommendation from Constant Lambert whose Concerto for piano and nine instruments she had learnt for a ballet performance. Symphonic Variations is restless, rhapsodic. Also Joyce Hatto made the first recording of the piece in the mid-1960s for and this can be heard on. Bax wrote his Symphonic Variations during the 1914—18 war for Harriet Cohen with whom he was by then living, having left his wife for her and gave her the exclusive right to perform the work for this reason, perhaps, it was never published.
The second half of the Variations is the stronger. I have pillaged these notes shamelessly for the purposes of this review. The Symphonic Variations is very much a Harriet Cohen work. Morning Song has moments of touchingly simple lyricism, but others of aimlessness and clod-hopping as well; it is minor stuff, but the Variations are major Bax: flawed and unequal, no doubt, but containing some of his most vehement and most personal music. We will also enclose, where available, an A4 printout of the associated booklet including cover artwork and complete track listing.
Even the intermezzo sub-titled ''Enchantment'' is haunted by an insistent drum rhythm and only achieves real enchantment a passage of characteristically Baxian filigree after a climax of protesting vehemence. Baxians need to be on the look-out later this year for Mark Bebbington's world premiere recording of the Bax Concertino for piano and orchestra. He believes that this factor contributed to its long and unjustified neglect. The slower bits Nocturne and The Temple are gorgeous, and they never drag. But who would have willingly put such a love-token out for hire? It has its demonstrative and victorious moments of course but if Bax had called the work 'Idyllic Variations' no-one would have blinked. This Naxos disc carries the work's third commercial recording.
Bax let his virtuoso piano tendencies have free rein and these tend towards Balakirev, Grieg and Liszt rather than Brahms or Beethoven. But there is nothing especially crepuscular about the beautifully rhapsodic and very Rachmaninov-like second section ''Nocturne'' , and I cannot imagine what Bax was thinking of when he called the long, nobly impassioned central slow movement ''The Temple''. Which brings us, finally, to the two recordings. This Piano Quintet, his earliest masterpiece, is a triumph of tragic beauty and tragedy. A marvellous musical team weaves its magic in this spellbinding repertoire.